In today’s world there is one clear threat that surpasses all others: the rise of China. Current forecasts predict that China’s economy will become the world’s largest in just over a decade and the country’s GDP per capita is projected to overtake the United States within fifty years. This increasing economic might will allow China to deepen its authoritarian behaviour domestically and become increasingly bullish on the international stage.
Areas of geopolitical contention between China and the West generally centre on three principal areas: the sovereignty of Taiwan, territorial claims to the South China Sea, and the draconian measures imposed on the people of Hong Kong. Simultaneously, the Chinese state has been restricting political freedoms, freedom of the press and freedom of expression, not to mention its multifold, state-sanctioned human rights abuses.
From extensive forced labour to the arbitrary detention of Muslims, China is seriously opposed to the fundamental pillars of the international system established by allied forces after World War II. The UK and its allies must thus be keen not to neglect a values-driven foreign policy in favour of short-term, interest-driven decisions.
Whilst a considerable amount of contemporary domestic political discussion centres on Britain’s international and historical failings, it is facile to allow these shortcomings to negate the country’s long-standing merits in our minds. The United Kingdom is one of the world’s most stable nations and shares honourable values with its allies, from the importance of human rights to democracy, the rule of law, freedom of speech and freedom of trade.
In finding its new role in the post-Brexit world, the United Kingdom must return to its core values and project them internationally. It is for this reason primarily that the United Kingdom, United States and Australia’s new trilateral security and defence alliance, ‘AUKUS’, is imperative for containing China and preserving the principles that our liberal democratic nations stand for.
Despite claims by China’s embassy in Washington that the three countries have displayed a “Cold War mentality and ideological prejudice”, this is not a Cold War of the twenty-first century. Not only are China and the West not altogether ideologically opposed, by virtue of China’s acceptance of the merits of free trade, the United Kingdom and our Western counterparts seek good relations with China. Beyond economic importance as a valuable trading partner, China will be an imperative collaborator in the fight against climate change.
The friction between China and the West is a value-based war, and to win such a conflict, the United Kingdom must be confident in the principles it champions and create pragmatic new alliances where necessary. Whilst China’s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian claimed that the alliance “seriously undermines regional peace and stability and intensifies the arms race”, the opposite is, in fact, true.
Under the deal, the US and UK will assist Australia in establishing a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines, in addition to co-operation on cyber security and artificial intelligence capabilities.
Not only does the pact not infringe on the countries’ non-proliferation commitments, it will be key to maintaining global stability, preserving Western influence and protecting our values. Britain no longer looks to Brussels to define its foreign policy and is right to continue to pursue strategies that secure an international system based on liberal principles.
In the game of global politics there are winners and losers and if the West fails to maintain its international standing then much more malign powers will take on that role. The threat that China poses to this structure mandates a security focus in the Indo-Pacific, a role that the AUKUS pact fulfils. Whilst Boris may have taken an international gamble in provoking France and China, it is one that I am confident will pay off.
Nevertheless, the UK should be wary not to antagonise its allies and must deepen its cooperation globally and ensure its position as a world leader. From strengthening the Five Eyes alliance to steering the G7, there is opportunity once again for the UK to lead in a global order that ensures stability and advances liberal values.
This is not to say that the United Kingdom should pursue active democracy promotion or invade foreign lands under the guise of promoting a better world. The UK does, however, have a responsibility to contain China whilst its authoritarian government continues to challenge the values we have sought to protect for decades. Beyond this, the UK has a further responsibility to intervene in cases globally in which our shared values are blatantly challenged. In doing so, Britain can re-establish its role in the world and reinvigorate relations with its allies.